Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2016-2017 National Hockey League pre-season preview(Teams 30 and 29)

Well, that time of year has come again where free agency has begun to filter out and the draft is complete which gives me enough to go off of to complete my second annual Season preview. The way I construct these sort of previews is I extensively analyze each facet of the organization, defensively to up front and finally opining on the state of the goaltenders. Last year, I began my list with the team that I forecasted as the top team going into the season but realized I take more enjoyment when ranking in descending order. I plead that you thoroughly enjoy.

30.Vancouver Canucks

Jim Benning initiated this off-season by proclaiming that the defense needed to be rebuilt and in an interview that took place during or around the time of the draft he stated that he believes that with the drafting of Olli Juolevi and the acquisition of Erik Gudbrandson that the appropriates steps had been taken. Have they? Whether or not Juolevi is inserted into the lineup as early as this year which I maintain is highly doubtful, this defensive corpse has more holes than a Regina ring road on a warm summer day. Where do I begin with my critique....for starters as I clearly illustrated in my NHL draft grades blog post, I don't believe for a New York minute that Juolevi projects as a number one defenceman as it's obvious he was a benefactor of playing with the talent infested London Knights Ontario Hockey League franchise and his professional upside remains in a state of flux. Even if Jim Benning does end up hitting a home run with the lanky Finn, it's Juolevi and who else?  Chris Tanev is a decent piece but it could be argued that Tanev's appeal largely correlates with the lack of NHL calibre depth they have throughout the system. Tanev's strengths are his puck moving abilities and his unique awareness to jump into the rush at opportune times. His eloquent skating skills will be an asset for former Medicine Hat Tigers head coach Willie Desjardins as Willie preaches up tempo pace, but ironically the primary reason for the lack of success in Van city is Desjardins's system doesn't compute with the pieces he currently has to work with. Tanev has limitations, on a good team and by no means can Vancouver be perceived a good team, he's a borderline number four defenceman who will be pressed into # 1/2 minutes. Lastly, I want to touch on a trade that Jim Benning made this spring sending former Sault Ste.Marie Greyhound Jared McCann to the Florida Panthers for the aforementioned Gudbrandson. I've as a general statement  been difficult on the Canuck organization and for good reason, and I'll give credit where credit is due, the Canucks robbed the suddenly incompetent Florida Panther organization in this trade. McCann is a dime a dozen where Erik is a shut down, bruising defenceman who will only grow stronger with age. I was shocked to find out he was on the trade market and naturally a team that is in a defensive crisis quickly pounced. I've long admired Gudbrandson's game ever since he patrolled the blue line for Canada's World Junior entry but a initial concern I would have is whether his game's compatible to the aggressive, offensive game that the Canucks intend to roll with it. Aside from that, he's legitimally the only defensive stalwart I have any confidence about which is understandable when you weigh the ranking I've handed British Columbia's team.

The Sedin twins are so old that they remember the days playing against Gordie Howe. I say that in jest of course and in all seriousness it's astounding  that the Swedish sensations have been around since 1999. No one has ever questioned the skillset or dedication Henrik and Daniel bring to the forefront but like most star athletes, the sign of a model franchise is that of when an organization knows when to move on, and it's abundantly clear to turn the page that Canucks must turn to younger, future driven leaders. Who might some of those be, Bo Horvat was lauded for his leadership abilities while playing in the Ontario Hockey League but from all accounts had a down year in 2015-2016 and the Canucks need added production out of the number two center. The big fish the Nucks pried from Pacific ocean was Loui Eriksson. I have no issue with  Eriksson the hockey player, I do take issue however with the thirty year old Eriksson taking the most money as opposed to finding himself the right fit to contend for the Stanley Cup. Players that leach on to the extra cash, and players like Sheldon Souray and Matt Martin who sacrificed better cup winning opportunities come to mind are players that I have no time for. Financial security is nice but life is more about money and enjoyment should trump the moolah. I can talk crap about the Canucks all day but one positive quality stands out when assessing the entire forward group and that is sheer team speed. The aforementioned Eriksson has excellent wheels and not to mention the Canucks employ probably who most consider a top five skater league wide in Jannik Hansen. The more research I do on the Canucks, it's apparent the way Canucks will beat teams(expect the W's to come few and far between) is to utilize that speed and master the cycle game down low. The Sedin's trademark is the cycle game but it's a strategic concept that in order to maintain at least partial respectability the entire team will want to grasp onto.

Let the Markstrom v Miller debate ensue. Depending what side of the ledger you find yourself on, you can formidably conjure up pros and cons for each netminder in what appears to be a heated topic around the water cooler in the lower mainland. Miller, the veteran who during his Buffalo Sabres tenure was at the top of his game but has fallen off in recent years. Markstrom on the other hand is seeking a viable opportunity for consistent playing time. During the 2010 World Juniors in Saskatoon/Regina, one I remember fondly due to my close proximity the talk amongst the TSN broadcasters was that we were witnessing the next great goaltender in Markstrom. His rights originally belonged to Florida and for whatever reason a lack of trust conssumated between player and coach and in fairness to the Panthers injuries weren't helping the process. When the move to Vancouver got formalized, there was an early tentativeness to award him much playing time but in thirty two starts he backstopped his way to a satisfactory .915 Save Percentage. With that in mind compounded by the fact that Miller truly hasn't been relevant since the 2010 season only one logical choice presents itself for Vancouver.

29.Montreal Canadiens

What a tumultuous off-season in Montreal it has been already. In what some are calling the worst trade in sports history,the Montreal Canadiens dealt away the most popular Canadien since Patrick Roy in P.K Subban to the Nashville Predators for the aging, arguably pylon-esque Shea Weber. I won't go as far to say it was the worst transaction that I've ever seen as in my opinion that mantra may belong to the Detroit Tigers back in 1987 for shipping John Smoltz to the Atlanta Braves for former Toronto Blue Jay Doyle Alexander. With apologies going out to the few that deeply followed the career of Alexander, the Braves won that deal in a landslide! (BTW I'm going to post the one memorable play that Alexander was involved with in his career), Anyways getting back to the fruitless Canadiens, how does a team recover from trading away their most prized asset sans Carey Price?  Defensively, Weber is the new colonel but it's a leadership role that on the ice any way he isn't the least bit deserving of. Weber is an asset on the power play with his booming shot but it wasn't as if Subban's shot was a liability. The cold hearted truth is that heading into the 2016-2017 campaign the defenceman who I look for the most out of is Alexei Emelin.Emelin for whatever reason takes a lot of heat from the fan base and I can't quite piinpoint why. What I'd like to see out of Emelin is a propensity to shoot the puck more frequently. He's a smooth skater who because of his silky skating finds himself in prime areas in the offensive zone but resorts to being too pass happy which hinders offensive development. Another area of improvement I foresee in the game of Emelin is his physicality. He's been known to lay some doozies however you see this side of his game so rarely that it's not harped upon.  At 6'2, 216 he can provide so much more intimidation in his own zone and the onus is on the coaching staff to instill this thought process as like I'm attempting to imply, I see a defenceman who has the package to be considered a # 1, but it's getting the package open is proving to be difficult. If my prognostication is correct and the Montreal Canadiens are safely enshrined in the lottery conversation then the surely bantered about debate about what to do with 2016 first rounder Mikhail Sergachev will carry on. Sergachev plays(played) for the Windsor Spitfires who are happening to host the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup and with that guaranteed spot in the tournament, what needs to be analyzed is what's best for the long term outlook of Mikhal the prospect? Potential wise, his body is NHL ready and would likely see the bulk of top four minutes in Montreal. With Montreal not expected to fare well though, the converse scenario is to have him spend another year in junior while suiting up for a junior powerhouse in addition to getting a plethora of national exposure because you just know Sportsnet(the CHL rights holder) loves to milk the team they're assured of seeing in late May.  Bergevin is a General Manager that strikes me of not having a concise plan, so the Sergachev decision could go either way and it wouldn't surprise me.

The only tangible move up front has seen the addition of Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks and the subtraction of Lars Eller who has wound up in Washington. I happen to love Shaw's game, tenacious and plays with  a level of truculence that would make Brian Burke proud. I'd like the acquisition more though if they didn't  have a million Andrew Shaw's lined up already. Let's not call a spade a spade here, Andrew Shaw and Brendan Gallagher are carbon copies  of  one another. While Shaw may possess slightly more speed, Gallagher has more of a refined finish which undeniably is the only differentiation between the two. They need more scoring desperately and Michel Therrien and Co.are hoping they've found some in the enigma that is Alexander Radulov. On paper, the signing of Radulov was imperative but when you bring his questionable character into the equation, you have to wonder how will he fit in to the Montreal Canadiens locker room. Throughout the years he's mustered up the salty reputation of being a me first player and if you believe the local media in reports that captain Max Pacioretty had a few dustups with the eccentric now departed P.K Subban, how he will interact with Radulov remains a juicy mystery. In order for this club to be quasi competitive this season I don't think it's far fetched to suggest that the Habs will need the former Nashville Predator and Quebec Rempart to pot at least thirty goals because I have no idea where the rest of the offence will come from. Well that's a lie, I have a theory, one that shot down evasively from a friend of mine who has an obsession with the Canadiens.  A few days ago I made the bold comment insinuating that a prospect, a former first round pick to boot Michael McCarron has first line capabilities. My friend who's garnering the reputation of being borderline delusional when it comes to hockey assertions ahot it down quicker then you could believe but here's a few truthisms regarding McCarron. 1) He received tutelage from one of the best, if not the best junior hockey coaches out there in Dale Hunter,It's purely coincidental that I'm featuring this many former London Knights on the first night of the preview! 2) His size is coveted. I think some more invested in the Canadians seem to think because he's only scored seven goals in two years that is in some way a knock on the prospect, au contraire as just because he's listed a 6'6 doesn't necessarily equate to him being a power forward, goal scoring center. In fact, McCarron's bread and butter is his slick passing abilties as in all actuality there's some around hockey circles that would like to see him play bigger but sometimes a player is what he is. Over the course of my perusings around social media,I've read comparisons of Milan Lucic which in no way shape or form are accurate. Think Joe Thornton, a play making center he uses his big frame to shield defenders and open up passing lanes. Some may frown at the notion but Montreal has a special one on their hands.

Carey Price. Need I say more? I will say this though, I have some reservations of what could and should be expected out of Carey this season.,After all he did miss the bulk of last season and goaltenders are finicky in the sense of no one's real sure how long it will take him to revert back into game shape. Being named to the Canadian entry for the upcoming World Cup will fast track the progress but could you imagine a scenario where he gets hurt in the tournament? You thought the riots in Vancouver post 2011 game seven were bad, just picture the outrage with Habs fan if Carey were to get hurt during preliminary play, they'd be berating his commitment or lack there of to the organization by putting his country first. You think that's nothing to worry about but Habs fans are a different beast and something like that would rile the fan base.

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